Of course I had to see this. The books are favorites in my library, and I loved the 1964 film, even though I was somewhat disappointed when I first saw it because it differed so much from the books. And even at age 13 I knew Dick Van Dyke’s accent was trash. He was still great in every other way. Over many re-watchings, I came to love the film for what it is.
The new one is a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it. Emily Blunt’s take on the title character is actually somewhat closer to the books, she has more of an edge than Julie Andrews. Lin Manuel-Miranda does fine as Jack the lamp-lighter, clearly the equivalent of Bert the chimney-sweep in the first film. He does better with the accent and is charming. Here the two original film’s Banks children are grown, and Michael has three children of his own, and is recently widowed. His sister Jane is often on hand for support, but Michael is floundering, and about to lose the family house. Of the original staff, only Ellen the maid is present, now doing all the chores. Admiral Boom is still next door firing his cannon, and a few other characters from the books return or are added in the new film, with fine work by David Warner, Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke, all in small roles. The music is pleasant, the songs are fun if not as memorable as the ones in the first film. (It’s telling that I was most moved by a few brief themes from the first film in the background.) The singing and dancing, sets and animation are all well done.
My only knock on the film is that it tries too hard to be like the first film, often imitating and drawing on the earlier work, as in, “we need a dance number like the chimney sweeps,” or “we must have a live action and animation mash-up with music hall number.” Yes, there are some unique ideas, but not many. I did like seeing a few more characters and situations from the books brought to life, and the acting and emotional resonance was fine, it all felt true enough. But, as the Disney trailers for new versions of “Lion King” and “Dumbo” emphasized, Disney now is all about drawing on past successes rather than breaking new ground.
For a young person who hasn’t seen the first film, this one might well become a beloved favorite. It was good, at times excellent, but it will always come well behind the 1964 film for me, and the books are best of all.